The target audience for so-called young adult literature seems to be 15 to 20-year-olds. Being 35, I feel like I should have developed a more mature taste, but it just doesn’t seem to happen. So, I’ve decided to embrace the fact that I’m addicted to YA fantasy, although I am sort of fed up with the prototypical 17-year-old protagonist. I like ’em better when they are at least 20, crossing over into the New Adult category, but these types of fantasy novels don’t seem to be as common as their YA-counterparts, though.
I’ve never had any issues standing by my love of horror, science fiction, and heavy-duty fantasy like “A Song of Ice and Fire” and Tolkien’s writings. But although I really shouldn’t care what other people think of my taste in literature, I must admit that I felt more pride adding classics like “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “The Old Man and the Sea” to my Goodreads-list of books I’ve read, than novels like A Court of Thorns and Roses and Darkfever, despite the fact that I enjoyed the latter more.
In academic circles, the level of recognition tends to increase with the LIX-measure, but although I like the thought of being admired for my refined choice of literature, what I don’t like is limiting myself on the basis of vanity and hypocrisy. The fact remains that while I enjoy classics from time to time, I absolutely adore reading all types of fantasy, especially if it’s simultaneously a
The funny thing is, a lot of my friends actually think like that, too. At least the ones who are around the same age as me. We’re expected to stop playing when we grow up, and transform into serious, productive and responsible citizens. Fantasy is often dismissed as mere escapism, one of the implications being that to spend too much time gallivanting around worlds of make-believe is to squander one’s precious time. Succesfully adulting adults don’t do stuff like that. Or, so they say …
A lot of people tend to think of fairy tales and other kinds of fantastical fiction as narratives best left behind on the threshold of adulthood. But why is it like that, though?
Part of it has to do with a condescending view on fiction and poetry, we’ve inherited from classical greek philosophy, and which is found in Plato’s writings in particular. Plato was a philosopher in classical Greece, and he’s had a significant influence on the development of philosophy, especially Western thinking. In the dialogue called The Republic (written around 380 B.C.), Plato deems poetry and myth to be unsuitable as means of educating the future guardians of the Republic, among other things stating the argument that poetry “waters” passions, that are best left to dry out – e.g. lust and anger. In the tales told by the ancient greek writers Homer (The Odyssey and The Illiad) and Hesiod (The Theogony and Works and Days), the greek gods are commonly depicted as conspiring, envious, and zealous – behaving altogether too much like humans. Plato thinks that those kinds of tales give a false impression of the nature of the divine, and that they lead the perception astray. Accordingly, they must be strongly censored and should be known by only a few men. Only with great care and censorship can certain types of poetry and myth, which Plato and his friends have found to be qualified illustrations of principal virtues, be employed in the education of the youngest members of the Republic. This is what’s behind the term “nursery tales”, which is frequently used in alignment with fairy tales: traditional stories which have been censored, accommodated and watered-down in order to impregnate the gullible minds of the young with suitable moral messages.
A lot of people disagree with this view on fantastical literature, though, and one of the most prominent voices belonged to Tolkien, who expressed some of his ideas in the essay “On Fairy-Stories”:
[…] fairy-stories should not be specially associated with children. They are associated with them: naturally, because children are human and fairy-stories are a natural human taste (though not necessarily a universal one); accidentally, because fairy-stories are a large part of the literary lumber that in latter-day Europe has been stuffed away in attics; unnaturally, because of erroneous sentiment about children, a sentiment that seems to increase with the decline in children.
Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
It probably won’t come as a surprise that I agree with Tolkien, when he says that fantasy is a natural human activity, which has several merits, “recovery” being one of them. By recovery, Tolkien means the ability to view things from a new angle, to see them with “fresh attention” and thereby possibly gain an enhanced understanding and appreciation of the wonders of our world.
Another function of fantasy is “escape”, which should not be understood in any negative way:
Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.
Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
For me, fantasy – regardless if it’s Young Adult, New Adult or Old Fart – has such a great appeal because it allows me to think about difficult-to-grasp subjects like life, death, love, fate, good and evil in a way which is meaningful to me. Like Tolkien, I despair when I think of the way industrialism has maimed our precious planet, and by letting my imagination “escape” into a world unlimited by so-called “realism”, I feel kind of liberated and re-energized in a way, which motivates me even more to face reality head-on.
In short: some people think that fantasy is a waste of time for anyone, other than children. They’re wrong. The end.